James Cahill is dreaming of a return to the Crucible

Road to the Crucible: Three World Snooker Championship qualifiers to watch



James Cahill

It’s a reflection of how unforgiving a place the World Snooker tour can be that James Cahill currently finds himself ranked number 88 in the world, having only earned £12,500 this season.

Such a fall from grace seemed unimaginable when Cahill pulled off one of the biggest shocks in Crucible history in beating Ronnie O’Sullivan in the first round in 2019, but two years later, the Blackpool youngster finds himself fighting for his place on the tour, possibly even his career.

There is no doubt that Cahill has the game to make a career out of snooker, and that victory over O’Sullivan confirmed he has the temperament for the big occasion, but that inability to grind out results and get the job done week in, week out continues to hold him back.

Now, with so much at stake, it is the event that shot Cahill to prominence, the World Championship, that offers him the chance to revive his fortunes and put himself back on the big stage; somewhere he firmly believes he belongs.

James Cahill celebrates his win over Ronnie O'Sullivan

His defeat of David Gilbert at last season’s UK Championship was the last reminder of what Cahill can do when at his best, and there is every chance he will need to overcome another former World Championship semi-finalist in Gary Wilson, before potentially meeting Welsh Open hero Jordan Brown, if he is to earn a return to the Crucible.

He’s 16/1 to do just that, and on recent form you’d struggle to make a strong case for him, but Cahill has always tended to produce his best snooker in the biggest matches and if there is to be a surprise qualifier this year, it might just be the man who has pulled off the barely believable in Sheffield once before.

Tian Pengfei

The 2006 world champion Graeme Dott should be a tough nut to crack in this section, but he might have his work cut out in a potential winner-takes-all match against Tian Pengfei.

The Chinese gave a really good account of himself when taking Stephen Maguire to a deciding frame on his Crucible debut in 2019 and he has remained a consistent performer since, reaching the English Open quarter-final last season and winning matches again this term.

Pengfei beat Martin Gould 4-1 and pushed Ronnie O’Sullivan all the way at the Scottish Open before Christmas and while he has been quiet more recently, he looked sharp when whitewashing Dominic Dale at the Gibraltar Open in March.

With little else than Dott to worry about in this section, you can’t help but like Pengfei’s chances of booking his second visit to the Crucible and 7/2 probably underestimates this experienced and dangerous operator.

Sam Craigie

It’s always heartening to see talent fulfil its promise, a young player turn his career around and start to enjoy the results he has always been capable of. You don’t have to watch Sam Craigie for too long to realise this is a supremely-gifted snooker player who would be right to have aspirations of making the top 16 at some stage.

Sam Craigie remains a bright talent

Nevertheless, after reaching the last eight of the China Open in 2019, Craigie struggled badly last term and has needed to knuckle down over the last few months to earn himself much-needed ranking points and some breathing space as he bids to secure his place on the tour once more.

While Craigie hasn’t been able to enjoy a big run at a major event this season, he has mixed it with some very good players over the last few months; victories over the likes of Judd Trump, Yan Bingtao and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh a clear demonstration of what he is capable of.

A first Crucible appearance still eludes Craigie, but being housed amongst the likes of Zhao Xintong and Hossein Vafaei won’t overawe him and there will be plenty of takers for him to reach the first round ‘proper’ at 9/2. I might just be one of them.

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